Why Empathy Matters When Designing Products

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Why Empathy Matters When Designing Products

The importance of empathy to creativity was underlined by recent research from the University of Connecticut and the University of Illinois.

· Agile Zone ·
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Customer empathy matters

Turns out, empathy and creativity are two peas in a pod.

It seems intuitive that if you can step into the shoes of your customers and experience what they do, then you have a good chance of delivering exceptional customer experiences. It's perhaps for this reason that so many successful startups emerge from the personal pain of the founders.

Nonetheless, the importance of empathy to creativity was underlined by recent research from the University of Connecticut and the University of Illinois, which asked participants to imagine consumers eating a snack before then designing that snack on their behalf.

You may also like: The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

When compared with a control group who were simply asked to design a snack objectively, the empathetic group produced considerably more creative products.

"We've shown that empathy can change the way in which you think," the researchers explain. "We've looked at it in a somewhat narrow context of product design, but it appears that subtle things, such as imagining how someone else would feel, can have a huge impact on creativity in general."

Child's play

The volunteers were tasked with completing a number of product design-related tasks, including designing a children's toy and a new breakfast cereal. The conditions for each task were as outlined above, with one group tasked with thinking about the feelings of the end user, and the other simply designing the products as objectively as they can.

Each product was then judged by experts in that particular area, none of whom were aware of the makeup of the teams or their particular circumstances. They judged the product designs purely on their creativity.

So what does empathy do to make us more creative? The researchers believe it triggers something known as 'cognitive flexibility', which is the ability to consider things from a number of perspectives simultaneously.

What's more, it also emerged that the ideas were not only more creative when we thought in such a way, but they were also often more feasible to the end user.

Better products

The researchers highlight how a growing number of companies solicit new ideas from customers and other stakeholders, with the likes of Starbucks receiving over 150,000 ideas through its crowdsourcing project.

Whilst the value of such ideation platforms is open to debate, the team believe that their findings could help such efforts produce even more creative and useful ideas.

"We were trying to brainstorm context where people could design for others," they conclude. "Our participants spent a lot of time thinking these projects through, in some cases much more time than they needed to. One of the things we love about testing creativity is that it is engaging, and people say it is a fun task. Through these simple experiments, we've shown that consideration of an end-user's feelings is a potent tool for developing innovative new products and solving problems that exist in the marketplace."

Further reading

Empathic Design: 5 Ways to Get Your Innovation Mojo Back

New User Empathy

empathy ,marketing ,product design

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